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VOLUME 13 TEACHING ISSUES AND EXPERIMENTS IN ECOLOGY
PRACTICE

The Biology of Climate Change: The effects of a changing climate on migrating and over-wintering species at a high-elevation field station

An undergraduate summer research student holds a yellow-bellied marmot that was trapped at RMBL. (Photos courtesy of RMBL)

AUTHORS

Carrie Wu1,2 and Amy Ellwein2

1Department of Biology, University of Richmond, VA 23173

2Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, Gothic, CO 81224

Corresponding Author: Carrie Wu (cwu@richmond.edu)


THE ECOLOGICAL QUESTION

How does climate change affect the phenology of species in a high-elevation ecosystem? How might these changes in temperature and snow melt impact ecological interactions?

ECOLOGICAL CONTENT

Climate change, environmental variation, phenology, species interactions, trophic mismatch

WHAT STUDENTS DO

Students engage with long-term environmental and phenology data sets (spanning over 40 years) collected at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, a high-elevation field station in Colorado, to explore the effects of climate change on the phenology of migrating and hibernating species. After becoming familiar with the geographic context, people involved with the data collection, and organisms studied through background readings and videos, students explore the raw data set in Excel or using an interactive data visualization tool. In small groups, students reproduce figures and regressions from Inouye et al. (2000) based on those data, then expand their analyses with data collected during the subsequent decade. By comparing analyses that encompass different time spans, students evaluate the original interpretations from Inouye et al. (2000), explain possible discrepancies, and generate predictions for future patterns. Finally, students build upon their initial analyses by developing and testing hypotheses about patterns found in other organisms in the data set, and combine these to discuss the ecological consequences of shifting plant and animal phenology in group presentations.

SKILLS

  • Interpret figures from the primary literature
  • Use spreadsheets to organize, effectively visualize, and analyze data to evaluate predictions
  • Construct and support an analysis of patterns in datasets
  • Work collaboratively to develop hypotheses, interpret results, and present analyses
  • Understand the biological impact of climatic variables on a single species, and how climate change affects interactions among species in complex ways

STUDENT-ACTIVE APPROACHES

Cooperative learning, critical thinking, guided inquiry, jigsaw, open-ended inquiry, peer feedback

ASSESSABLE OUTCOMES

  • Short answers to reading questions that are completed as a pre-class assignment
  • Reconstructed figures from a published dataset
  • New figures from a larger dataset to test predictions
  • Group presentations that include explanation of predictions, generation of a new figure from a large data set, regression analysis, and interpretation of the results
  • Open-ended inquiry questions

SOURCES

  • The Biology of Climate Change from Digital RMBL. Available online at: http://www.digitalrmbl.org/case-studies/bcc_background/
  • Inouye D.W., B. Barr, K.B. Armitage, and B.D. Inouye. 2000. Climate change is affecting altitudinal migrants and hibernating species. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 97: 1630-1633.

DOWNLOADS

  • Full Article Text [docx], [pdf]

  • Description of Excel Files:

    Three data sets are used in this activity.

    The original data file provided by David Inouye and colleagues is also available for instructors to use. It is provided in the format in which it was received: Inouye_2000_PNAS_Data.xlsx

    Instructors may wish to use this file in a supplementary activity to discuss best practices for formatting data files. Additional worksheets in this file also illustrate alternative ways in which Inouye and colleagues explored their data.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The authors thank billy barr and David Inouye for contributing data to this module, numerous RMBL scientists for their work on the Digital RMBL web site, and participants in the 2017 QUBES DIG into Data Faculty Mentoring Network for support and valuable discussions.

CITATION

Carrie Wu and Amy Ellwein. November 2017, posting date. The Biology of Climate Change: The effects of a changing climate on migrating and over-wintering species at a high-elevation field stationTeaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology, Vol. 13: Practice #2 [online]. http://tiee.esa.org/vol/v13/issues/data_sets/wu/abstract.html